• January to early March 2024
    Plum blossoms in deep Kyoto: pause to smell Japanese winter
  • Kyoto , Japan
  • Immerse yourself in wintery Kyoto, enjoy Instagram-perfect sights and scenes of the cultural capital of Japan only available in mid-winter. Go beyond perfect pictures – understand rather than just tick off places on your list. A perfect tour for those in search of a richer travel experience with a small group of fellow travellers.
  • If you book this tour for only three adult participants, this can become a private tour in the company of your friends or family. Requests for two participants or a solo traveller are accepted as well.


  • Acquire an understanding of the meanings behind gardens and plum blossoms, going beyond geishas and cultural cliches
    We optimized each day for you to enjoy the sights while developing an understanding of history and culture – through stories and historical anecdotes. Each day has a theme.
  • Getting the most out of Kyoto in winter, means pacing yourself to understand but also to enjoy
    Short daylight hours are spent with maximum efficiency discovering the depth of Kyoto with an experienced storyteller. Small group size (maximum 8) ensures maximum attention can be given to all participants.
  • Have some of your gourmet experiences curated and organized
    Rely on expert guides to curate some of your gourmet experiences. We will make reservations in some of the most exquisite venues for lunch, and one for a unique dinner experience with geishas.
  • Private vehicle on the parts of the journey where it makes most sense
    Kyoto is not a small city, so we use a private vehicle to maximize the number of places we can visit in comfort even in inclement weather or on a very cold and windy winter day.

When Plum Trees Bloom ("ume-kaika")

Believe it or not, at the time Kyoto city was created by Japanese aristocrats with the help of Chinese nobles experienced in city planning, the hype was not about sakura cherry blossoms, but plum blossoms. For Imperial court aristocrats and common folk alike the blooming plum or Japanese apricot trees signified the coming of spring. The fragrance is pleasantly sweet and lasting, and trees bloom for almost two months, from January well into March. Unlike fleeting cherry blossoms (which don't have a fragrance to speak of, and can be gone in less than a week) the plum or apricots’ blooming period is much longer which has contributed to making a lasting impression on Kyoto aristocracy to appreciate plum blossoms. Those travelling to Kyoto in the Heian era to see and smell plum trees blooming, were reminded that the spring and warmer weather were just around the corner.

In February, in the blooming of plum trees is reflected in restaurant menus and in the offerings of art galleries. Menus will feature plum flower-themed dishes, or dishes will be decorated with plum branches. Art exhibitions will often feature the images of plum trees, white and reddish/ pink.

Kyoto in mid-winter and early March is a perfect place to dive into the fragrance of plum groves here and there. Warrior class, samurai, preferred sakura to "ume" flowers - but Kyoto, the ancient Imperial capital is decidedly the city of plum blossoms fans, mainly aristocratic class. Learn more from your guide!


Day Summary

Kyoto: start in Higashiyama area with afternoon walk

Arrive at any time, and by 14:30 be ready for your afternoon welcome mini-tour - that starts in front of the biggest wooden gates in Japan at Chion-in Buddhist temple.

Together with your guide take a short walk from Chion-in Sanmon gates spotting plum blossoms along the way, to another smaller temple nearby, to see where in the old days retired emperors lived.

Explore local stores and sweets cafés to get an introduction to Kyoto food culture and daily life. Stay in the area after the tour ends at 17:30, or walk with your tour leader to Yasaka Shrine (the starting point of Shijo-dori, main shopping street of Kyoto city that crosses the city from east to west).

Overnight in Kyoto | Meals Included: none

Kyoto: Shinto and Zen amidst plum blossoms, geisha by night

Be in the car by 9 am to move to northern part of the city enjoying the colors and fragrance of Japanese apricot, or plum blossoms. We take a walk in the plum grove next to over 1,000 year old shrine dedicated to Heian era aristocrat.
Walk through still-quiet geisha district, one of only 5 so called teahouses districts in Kyoto, with its own atmosphere and symbols.

Next is the Zen monastery, one of the biggest and oldest Buddhist temples. The serenity of its stone gardens inside massive verdant grounds provides a background for stories to understand how religion and history connects with gardens and Zen meditation. Plum blossoms are to be seen and smelled abound here.

Lunch will be one of the most enjoyable vegetarian gourmet experiences Japan has to offer. You will forget about meat or fish while savouring delectable tofu and yuba dishes, vegetables and seasonal herbs combined with rice, pickles and green tea, seated on floor mats at low tables.

Next is a picturesque, architecturally remarkable Shinto shrine. Visit its kitchen-turned-into-museum, where Shinto shrine priests prepare food offerings for gods and deities. The shrine precincts have a few plum blossoms spots that attract professional photographers and should delight you as well.

Weather and time permitting, walk in the neighbourhood discovering non-touristy spots such as a rich merchant’s former villa, or move closer to the city centre to visit a few carefully selected shops with museum-quality Kyoto traditional crafts. Should you wish to do so, you may opt to go back to the hotel and relax a bit before dinner, as long as you can make it to the restaurant by taxi on your own. The vehicle stays with the group.

By 7 o’clock those who booked dinner with geishas will arrive at an upscale restaurant in the Higashiyama area, ready for their multicourse kaiseki meal that lasts for at least 2 hours, including geisha entertainment for an hour or so (one geiko and one maiko accompanying our dinner). (all guests must be at the restaurant by a certain time, Kyoto chefs are very strict)

Overnight in Kyoto | Meals Included: lunch  (vegetarian meal at Zen monastery) and
dinner with geisha (geiko and maiko) in early evening

Kyoto: tea and art in and around Kyoto

Be ready to leave your hotel at 9 am (time tbc), and soon you are at the entrance of a traditional tea specialist store to learn about different types of green tea.

Next you will be visiting the store selling the best matcha ice cream in the world. The store offers a variety of matcha-infused freshly made and packaged sweets, matcha tea, sencha and gyokuro teas, while boasting the interior of a merchant house of times long gone.

Then we head to a tea ceramics museum with the option to visit an interesting art or craft gallery on the way, depending on what is open on that day in this area we visit.

Weather permitting, the tour leader takes you to the Arashiyama area to admire the famous panorama view of the Togetsukyo bridge across the river with mountains in the background, and take in the “borrowed scenery” from the Tenryuji temple garden. Your lunch will be at Arashiyama, or nearby at a casual Japanese restaurant of impeccable standing.

Depending on the weather and how sensitive most of the group participants are to the cold, we either continue to explore ancient temples’ architecture and temple gardens of Kyoto, or visit a temple festival, or attend a tea ceremony at some special location in Kyoto


head to one of Kyoto’s art museums to catch one of the special winter openings of temple art objects.

At dusk we are exploring the picturesque Gion Shirakawa area, photo-hunting for plum blossoms, on the way to the tea quarters district of Miyagawa-cho, a less known geisha district compared to famous Gion.

Optional - Those who booked the optional tempura dinner for today will stay in the area, while the driver will bring the other guests back to their hotels.

Overnight in Kyoto | Meals Included: lunch at Japanese restaurant
OPTIONAL luxury dinner (extra costs apply):at tempura restaurant at Miyagawa-cho district

Kyoto: landscape garden, kimono and saying goodbye to the city
Tour leader picks you up from your hotel shortly before 9 am and soon you are in a garden famous for its “borrowed landscape”.

Then we head for a kimono experience where elegant local ladies fit a kimono on you. After all participants (men or women – this is a unisex experience) are beautifully dressed-up, we take everyone around the picturesque Gion Shirakawa area and, weather permitting, to a nearby Shinto shrine and temple gardens with world-famous art of the Rinpa painting school.

In case of inclement weather, we will book a space where you can still take atmospheric photos with a traditional interior or Japanese garden in the background. Silk kimonos and undergarments that will be prepared for each participant are quite warm so no need to worry too much about cold weather. However, walking in kimono can be a little challenging without prior practice.

You can have your lunch wearing kimono, provided extra insurance coverage is taken. (tbc).
Our lunch is pre-booked at a traditional unagi eel restaurant, another experience with the unique Kyoto touch.

The tour finishes after lunch around the Gion area.

Meals Included: lunch at unagi eel restaurant


Mid-January, February, early March, 2024
Number of tour participants Price per person
6participants Please contact us
5 participants Please contact us
4 participants Please contact us
3 participants Please contact us
2 participants Please contact us
■Maximum number of participants for this tour is 8 – we will quote the price per person for 7 or 8 participants as per your request.
■We do not accept kids under 15 years old unless it is only your family on this tour – and if we do, we might need to rearrange the restaurants and add extra charges, as some only accept high school students and above.
■The rates are in Japanese yen and can be paid either by credit card or bank transfer.
Exchange rate may change if you prefer to pay in foreign currency.

Important Notes

** This tour does not have a minimum number of participants. However, the price per person will depend on the total number of participants as per above. If you are not comfortable participating with people you don’t know, we can arrange that, by closing the applications after you make the payment.
**If you are a solo traveler and would like this tour to be arranged exclusively for you, please contact us to inquire the price for only one person and dates we are able to offer a solo experience.
**The detailed itinerary will be sent to all participants at the same time three days before the tour start. In the meantime, the best reference is the description hereabove, without specific location names.

Including :

Experienced English-speaking guide | Private vehicle with a professional driver as per itinerary above | Three Lunch meals as per above and one Dinner with geisha and maiko (additional orders will be extra cost paid on the spot individually by participants) | All entrance fees, museum tickets and participation fees as per above

**if you have any food restrictions, please inform us at the time of booking the tour with as much detail as possible.

Above mentioned price is exclusive of:

Hotel accommodation and any breakfasts | Any meals or refreshments not stated above | Travel & Medical Insurance (by individual arrangement) | Personal expenses (Souvenirs and Alcoholic Beverages, etc.)

**If we cannot provide hotels within your budget or on very short notice, please kindly arrange your own accommodation – we recommend hotels in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto to streamline logistics. The tour price above does not include us assisting you with hotel reservations or your travel to or from Kyoto on time, in principle.

Customize Your Tour?

If you wish to extend your stay or make shinkansen bullet train arrangements or traditional Japanese inn reservations, contact us to start discussing your custom tour! Based on your choice of destination and budget we can create an itinerary just for you that is focused on your specific interests. There might be a customized itinerary design fee involved.

Recommended hotels

■Luxury hotels: Park Hyatt Kyoto*, Four Seasons Kyoto
■Premium hotels: Hotel The Celestine Kyoto Gion, Sora Niwa Terrace Kyoto BETTEI, Kasuien Annex at The Westin Miyako Kyoto, Hotel Kanra Kyoto
■Standard hotels: insomnia KYOTO OIKE, Sequence Kyoto Gojo, Vessel Campana Gojo, Sora Niwa Terrace Kyoto
(for all “Standard” options, set your expectations for breakfast accordingly. Breakfast at these hotels will be less extensive than at more up-market accommodations)

** Book hotels on your own, or ask us. If you prefer us to book a hotel for you, please indicate the dates, number of people, room type and if you accept twin room in case double is not available. We also ask you to indicate the budget range per person per night, or a specific hotel name – the hotels we recommend here above might not be available.
** If you book a hotel on your own, we need to know its full address and name when you make a reservation with us, as we will be arranging pick-up on Day 2, 3 and 4 (except Day 1), and a drop off when it is possible and feasible within estimated itinerary.

  Contact us about this tour
Travel planning and implementation:SAIYU TRAVEL CO.,LTD.
3rd floor, Kyodo Bldg. jimbocho, 2-2, Kanda, jimbocho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0051, Japan |Travel Agency Registration No. 607


Saiyu Travel Co.,Ltd. / Since1973